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Cement Maker’s Pollution Tab: $32.5M

Monday, June 24, 2013

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One of the largest cement companies in the United States will spend tens of millions of dollars in fines and new technology to resolve allegations of federal pollution violations, under a new settlement agreement.

Ash Grove Cement Company has agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and invest about $30 million in pollution control technology at its nine Portland cement manufacturing plants, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday (June 19). 

Of the $2.5 million civil penalty, $1.66 million will be paid to the United States and $834,000 will be divided among state agencies signing the Consent Decree filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Ash Grove Consent Decree
Wikimedia Commons / Joe Mabel

The sixth-largest producer of cement in the U.S., Ash Grove Cement Company will pay $2.5 million in civil penalties and spend $30 million on pollution control technology after agreeing to a consent decree.

Ash Gove produces nearly nine million tons of cement annually and is the sixth-largest producer in the United States.

Alleged Violations

The penalty stems from alleged violations of the Clean Air Act incurred when Ash Grove constructed or modified cement plants without first obtaining permits and installing pollution control equipment. The modifications at facilities in Midlothian, TX; Montana City, MT; Leamington, UT. and elsewhere resulted in increased emissions of pollutants, authorities said .

"Today's settlement will reduce air pollution that can harm human health and contribute to acid rain, haze, and smog," Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, said in a statement.

"The new stringent limits on emissions will lead to less pollution and better air quality for communities across the country," Giles said.

Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General, added: "This significant settlement will achieve substantial reductions in air pollution from Ash Grove's Portland cement manufacturing facilities and benefit the health of communities across the nation."

Headquartered in Overland Park, KS, the company operates nine cement plants and 13 kilns in Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Settlement Details

Ash Grove agreed to spend $750,000 to mitigate the effects of past excess emissions at several facilities and another $750,000 on a project to replace old diesel truck engines at plants in Kansas, Arkansas and Texas. The new truck engines are estimated to reduce smog-forming nitrogen oxides by about 27 tons per year.

portland cement pollution
Ash Grove Cement Company

Some of the required pollution controls will make Ash Grove's kilns have the lowest emission limits of any retrofit control system in the country.

The settlement requires Ash Grove to meet stringent emission limits, as well as install and operate technology that will reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and particulate matter (PM).

SO2 and NOx are key pollutants emitted from cement plants that can harm human health and contribute to acid rain, smog and haze. The pollutants are converted in the air into particulate matter that can cause severe respiratory and cardiovascular impacts and premature death.

Ash Grove is required to reduce NOx emissions at nine kilns; some of these kilns will have the lowest emission limits of any retrofit control system in the country, according to EPA. At six kilns, a selective non-catalytic reduction system will be required.

Additionally, pollution controls will have to be installed on every kiln to reduce PM emissions and on several kilns to reduce SO2 emissions. For controlling SO2, Ash Grove will install dry absorbent addition at two kilns and semi-dry scrubbing at one kiln.

Ash Grove will have to shut down two older kilns at its Texas facility and replace a third with a cleaner, newly reconstructed kiln.

Ash Grove Responds

Ash Grove released a statement on Wednesday announcing that it had "completed negotiations" with the EPA and had "demonstrated industry leadership by proactively implementing an ISO 14001 certification program and by adopting emissions reduction technologies early."

"The agreement with EPA will allow Ash Grove to move forward and provide an environmentally sustainable product that is the foundation of our economy," said Charles T. Sunderland, Chairman and CEO.

EPA National Enforcement Initiative
Ash Grove Cement Company

The settlement is part of EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives. An EPA spokesperson called the settlement "significant"; an Ash Grove spokesperson called it "quite costly."

"Ash Grove strives to comply with all environmental regulations at each of its facilities," said Michael J. Hrizuk, Senior VP of Manufacturing.

"At the same time, this EPA initiative has been quite costly for Ash Grove, and has required a significant amount of time and effort. Rather than continue the debate, we believe that our effort is better spent collaborating on ways to further reduce our environmental footprint, which is the path we chose by signing this agreement," said Hrizuk.

National Enforcement Initiative

The agreement is expected to take effect in July after a 30-day comment period and final court approval.

The settlement is part of EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives to control harmful air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including Portland cement manufacturing facilities. Every three years, EPA sets national enforcement initiatives to focus civil and criminal enforcement resources on serious pollution problems.

This is the first settlement with a cement manufacturer that requires injunctive relief and emission limits for PM.

Joining the U.S. in the settlement were Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, Utah, Washington and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

   

Tagged categories: Air pollution control; Cement; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Regulations

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